I am a survivor of gun violence. It’s surreal to even say those words: “a survivor of gun violence” — in my case, a mass shooting. I was shot during a madman’s rampage at Salt Lake City’s Trolley Square Mall in 2007. As I lay wounded, I watched in horror as the gunman circled back and took a second shot at my 15-year-old daughter, Kirsten. I watched her die.
Though I live in Salt Lake, I was among victims of gunfire invited to Washington, D.C., by a group formed in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in 2012. Under the leadership of the Newtown Action Alliance, we lobbied our senators, asking them to listen to us — US, “we the people,” whom they work for.
We pleaded with them to make America safer by backing some common-sense gun laws: comprehensive background checks on all gun buyers, for example.
Ninety-one percent of all Americans are asking for measures like that.
A filmmaker named John Richie followed us around, documenting the lobbying effort. At some point John asked me to tell my story on camera. He had no idea what he was about to hear. He decided to begin the film with that interview.
The film is called “91%: A Documentary About Gun Violence in America.” In it, John follows me from the beginning of my advocacy to the extraordinary day when I stood next to President Obama as he announced his executive action on anti-gun violence, and issued a call for stricter legislation on gun sales. The film also alludes to the 2013 Mother’s Day shooting in which 19 second-liners and onlookers were injured when feuding gangs opened fire on each other.
I never used to give a thought to gun violence. It was somebody else’s problem. It didn’t affect me. It wasn’t a threat to my children. I was a busy, very active single mother of four kids, trying to keep it all together. We were extremely close and enjoyed each other’s company. They were good kids living in a safe neighborhood, so gun violence wasn’t on my radar — until it was dropped smack in the middle of our lives! Then, without asking permission, it became the center of our universe.
This film is an important piece of storytelling. It’s pertinent to the American crisis none of us can escape. As I can personally testify, it can hit anybody in any town! We’ve all been affected by the mass shootings across the nation. New Orleans, Lafayette, now the recent shooting sprees that took the lives of eight law enforcement officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge — these incidents have stirred people to wake up and say ENOUGH! It is not OK to accept it as part of our American culture!
I now work with the grassroots organization Everytown for Gun Safety, or just plain Everytown. The name is a reminder that gun violence can happen anywhere.
I never would have believed that gun violence could invade my little family! If you had told me nine years ago that I needed to take action, to make sure every gun buyer is subject to a comprehensive system of background checks, I would have told you it wasn’t necessary. I would not have believed I would one day be lobbying senators to close loopholes that make it too easy for just anybody to get guns. I would not have believed that I needed to be part of the solution — that the life of my wonderful daughter Kirsten might even depend on it.
I thought guns were somebody else’s problem. I would have told you I’ll be just fine. I would have been so very, very WRONG!
It’s like ignoring the car mechanic when he tells me I need to do something about an oil leak. If I disregard his advice — because I don’t have time or think I can’t afford it — the car will seize up and die. If I don’t heed his warning, not only is the cost of repairs that much higher, I may lose my car altogether.
John Richie’s film is a powerful. He does a really good job of showing the high cost of gun violence, a cost that rises beyond incalculable when lives are lost, the lives of our own children. They are irreplaceable!
Life is never the same, in fact it’s ripped right out from under you when you’re hit by gun violence. It’s an American crisis that we can no longer ignore! That “ping” in the engine is your reminder that you can’t put off dealing with your oil leak. I hope my story inspires you to take action before your life is seized up!
Carolyn Tuft appears in John Richie’s film “91%: A Documentary About Gun Violence in America.” There’s a screening Thursday night at Tulane. The public is welcome. Click here for details.